Aging, sun exposure, heredity and lifestyle factors including nutrition, alcohol consumption and smoking all may contribute to facial wrinkling. Pigmentary changes of the skin, such as blotchiness or brown spots, may also occur with age or as a result of birth control pills, pregnancy or genetic factors. Prior acne may have made the surface of your skin uneven. These problems, as well as certain other skin conditions, may be improved by skin resurfacing.
Chemical peels, dermabrasion and laser skin resurfacing all achieve results in basically the same way. Layers of your skin are removed and, as the healing process progresses, a new, healthier-looking skin emerges. What differentiates the various resurfacing methods is the way in which the skin's layers are removed. Chemical peels involve the application of a caustic solution, dermabrasion utilizes high-speed rotary wheel, and laser resurfacing uses a laser beam.
A chemical peel solution may be applied to your entire face or just to certain regions, such as the crow's feet area around your eyes or the vertical wrinkles around your mouth. Your plastic surgeon will apply the solution using a sponge, a cotton pad or sometimes, for smaller areas, a cotton swab or brush. Your surgeon decides how long to leave the solution on your face by carefully observing any changes in the appearance of your skin. With certain types of chemical peels, the solution may be "neutralized" after an appropriate amount of time has elapsed.
The different types of chemical peels vary according to their specific ingredients and their strength. The depth of their peeling action may also be determined by factors such as how long they remain on the skin and whether they are applied lightly or rubbed more vigorously onto the skin.
Generally, the most superficial peels are those using alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) such as glycolic acid. Sometimes just a single treatment with an AHA peel will give your skin a fresher, healthier appearance and a radiant glow. Repeated treatments can help to further improve the texture of your skin. AHA peels can reduce the effects of aging and sun damage including fine wrinkling and brown spots. Your surgeon will recommend a maintenance program using AHA products that you can apply at home on a regular basis.
An AHA peel is performed in your plastic surgeon's office. No anesthesia or sedation is needed, and you will only feel a tingling or mild stinging sensation when the solution is applied to your face. Immediately after the procedure, you generally will be able to wear makeup, and you can drive yourself home or back to work.
A trichloracetic acid (TCA) peel is often used for the treatment of wrinkles, pigmentary changes and skin blemishes. Many patients can benefit from having TCA applied not only on the face but also on the neck and other parts of the body that have been exposed to the sun. For spot peeling of limited areas such as around the mouth or eyes, TCA formulas are often preferred because they have less bleaching effect than solutions containing phenol, another popular peeling agent. For the same reason, some surgeons have found TCA to be effective in treating darker-skinned patients. Milder TCA peels can be repeated frequently in order to achieve cumulative effects, or TCA can be used to achieve a medium or even a deep peel, depending on the acid concentration and manner of application.
A phenol peel is sometimes recommended for treating particularly rough and sun-damaged facial skin. Phenol is effective in reducing the appearance of wrinkles ranging from fine lines to deeper creases. It can correct pigmentary problems including blotchiness or age-related brown spots and may be used in the treatment of precancerous skin conditions.
Phenol is particularly useful for minimizing the vertical lines that often form around the mouth as a result of aging. The disadvantage of phenol for spot peeling of limited areas is that it often has a significant bleaching effect. After your skin has been treated with phenol, you may need to wear makeup in order for the treated portions of your skin to more closely match the skin color of the surrounding areas. Unlike TCA peels, phenol cannot be used on your neck or other parts of your body. Certain variations in the phenol peel formula, creating a "buffered" or milder solution, may allow for greater flexibility in its use.
Dermabrasion uses a small, rapidly spinning wheel with a roughened surface similar to fine-grained sandpaper to abrade the skin, removing its upper layers. This resurfacing procedure sometimes is selected for the treatment of facial scars such as those caused by acne and often is performed on the cheeks or the entire face.
Dermabrasion, like the deeper chemical peels, is very effective in reducing the appearance of vertical wrinkles around the mouth that often cause lipstick "bleed". It can be used on a small area of skin and on patients with somewhat darker complexions. The treated area usually will blend with the surrounding skin so that there is little if any noticeable difference in the pigmentation.
Skin resurfacing using a carbon dioxide (CO2) laser is the most recently developed of the techniques described in this brochure. Its effects are similar to those of chemical peels and dermabrasion, except that the laser removes skin layers by vaporization rather than with chemicals or a sanding device. Your plastic surgeon is trained in the safe use of laser equipment. He or she is able to specify the amount of energy transmitted to the skin's surface by the laser beam and control the depth of penetration.
Like the other resurfacing methods, the laser is effective in treating wrinkles, blotchiness or age spots, and scars from acne or other causes. It can be used on the entire face or specific areas. Certain other characteristics of your skin, such as its thickness and texture, may influence whether you are a good candidate for laser resurfacing. Some patients may benefit from the laser's mild "tightening" effect on the skin, particularly in the lower eyelid area where the skin often becomes somewhat loose as a result of aging.
There is a newer breed of no ablative devices that produce varying degrees of improvement with the potential for reduced recovery time.